On 6 January 2022 I was one of many happy genealogists who logged into FindMyPast to start digging into the newly-released 1921 census. Although I do not have many ancestors who were alive at the time the census was taken on 19 June 1921, I was happy to try my luck and see if I could locate any other close relatives and see what they were up to that momentous day. Among them was my great-great-grandfather’s only surviving brother, Richard Morris.
Up to now, all I ever knew about Richard was that he was born in 1860 in the Herefordshire village of Kinnersley. Throughout the various censuses taken over the years right up to 1911, he appears to have lived his life as a bachelor, spending some of those years looking after his widowed mother. It was not until a few years ago ,when I ordered his death certificate (dated 1931), that I discovered he had married in 1912!
His wife’s name was Jane Birch, and it was her daughter, G. Annie Birch – presumably born from a previous marriage – who went to register Richard’s death in the local registry office. For a long time, this was the family scenario I believed Richard knew in his last years… until the 1921 census was released!
There, black on white, was Richard’s entry in the census, together with Jane, his wife of just under ten years, her daughter Gertrude Annie Birch… and their son Samuel, who was 6 years old at the time! Well, well, well. You think you know someone, don’t you, and then they turn up having kids right up under your nose!
You might ask yourselves: why didn’t you do a search for potential children born to Richard and Jane before? Well, there are a couple of explanations. First, Morris is a very common surname in Herefordshire. Secondly, Birch wasn’t Jane’s maiden name, and without that crucial piece of information, it was just impossible to narrow down results without going into the realms of pure guesswork.
Naturally my first instinct was to try and see if I could find out anything about little Samuel Morris. His mother, Jane, unfortunately died in early 1926, when he would have been about ten years of age, and his father Richard, as I already mentioned, passed away in 1931, when Samuel was about 16. Luckily, I suppose, Samuel still had some close family nearby – let us not forget that he had at least one sister called Gertrude Annie who, being slightly older, would surely have been in a position to look after him.
Gertrude Annie’s birth entry on the GRO index now gave me a birth year of 1908, which means she was about eight years older than her half-brother Samuel. By cross-referencing with Samuel’s own birth in 1915, I also discovered that her mother’s maiden name was Addis, a surname I have not come across before in this part of Herefordshire. Finding Jane Addis’s marriage to a man called Arthur Birch in 1890 was easy enough, and I was quite surprised to find out they actually had quite a lot of children: Lilian Elizabeth (1890), Edith Hannah (1892), Arthur (1895), Bertha Annie (1896), Benjamin Charles (1898) and Mary Jane (1901).
But then tragedy struck when Jane’s husband Arthur died in 1901… which begs the question, how on earth did he father another daughter, Gertrude Annie, in 1908? Quite obviously he didn’t, which leads me to conclude Jane, by now a widow, became pregnant by an unknown man (not her first husband, and almost certainly not Richard Morris either). There’s an interesting twist to the family’s story!
So, it is evident that Samuel Morris had no shortage of half-siblings who could have taken him under their wing when he was orphaned at the age of 16, and while he was probably already considered old enough to earn a living by himself, I would love to find some indication that he was not left exclusively to his own devices at such a young age.
You will, therefore, understand my surprise – and disappointment – when I found him as a passenger on a vessel in 1932, emigrating to Canada to work as a farmer in Ontario. Not just that, but his nearest relative back at home was given as the Rector of Pembridge, Herefordshire, who had been appointed his guardian. What of Samuel’s half-brothers and sisters?
There are still many mysteries surrounding Samuel Morris – not least, what happened to him upon landing in Halifax in 1932. Did he make it to Ontario? Did he remain in Canada? Did he ever return to England? What happened to his half-siblings, and what was his relationship with them? I wish I knew!
If you could choose to be related to any celebrity who has appeared on the well-known genealogy TV show Who Do You Think You Are?, who would it be? Well, if any of the stories that have been researched so far happen to cover an area of the world where you have roots, then you may be in for a surprise – sooner or later!
That is precisely what happened to me very recently. A few months ago, frustrated by hitting genealogy brick wall after genealogy brick wall, I decided to tackle a particular line in my ancestry which I had long been neglecting. For you see, most of my English ancestors came from the rural county of Herefordshire, but I have also found a few lines that spill over the border into neighbouring Worcestershire, Monmouthshire and – much to my delight – Shropshire.
Rather unexpectedly -at least, for someone researching their English ancestry – I rather quickly managed to trace my line of female ancestors several generations, from my great-great-great-grandmother Ellen Morris (née Mound) to her great-grandmother Eleanor Crump (née Hammond). The Hammonds lived in the south of Shropshire and, while by the time of Eleanor’s birth in 1739 the family had lost much of its former prominence, I was pleased to find a small fortune hidden away in the will left by Eleanor’s great-grandfather’s brother Bernard.
In the said will, Bernard Hammond bestowed over £3,000 to his surviving brothers and sisters, as well as various nieces and nephews. Strangely, his daughter Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Holland, of Burwarton and a gentleman, was left next to nothing. Was that the result of a family rift, do you suppose, or were Thomas and Elizabeth so well off that her father saw no reason to bestow further riches on the young couple?
Be that as it may, the will opened up a series of family relationships that I probably wouldn’t have found out about had they not been so clearly spelt out in the document. Interestingly, it turns out that the above-mentioned Hollands appear to be the ancestors of Harriet Baugh, who in 1796 married Gustavus Hamilton, 6th Baron Boyne. One of their descendants married Margaret Lascelles, whose brother was married to Queen Elizabeth II’s aunt Princess Mary (later the Countess of Harewood!). Related to the great and the good at last, as I suspected…!
But that’s not the end of my upmarket discoveries on the Hammond side. Bernard’s brother (another of my ancestor Eleanor’s great-great-uncles) was none other than John Hammond, rector of Gawsworth, in Cheshire, and the husband of Alice Lucy, of the prominent Lucy family, who owned Charlecote Park. I knew nothing about them, but a bit of extra digging revealed that only a generation or two later, the main Lucy line died out and one of John and Alice’s descendants inherited the estate – swapping their Hammond surname for the more prestigious Lucy!
My search for additional documents on the notorious Hammond family eventually led me to a set of records that rather excitingly referred to my ancestors (and Eleanor’s paternal grandparents) Bernard Hammond and Rebecca Minton, who were married in 1710 in Eaton-under-Heywood, Shropshire. There can be little doubt as to Rebecca’s maiden name, since she christened her first-born son Minton. But wait, there’s more! Thanks to Shropshire Archives’ amazing online catalogue, which has now become something of a second home to me, I managed to find a set of records relating to the Minton estate!
The documents read like a family saga, and mention at least four different generations of my family from the late 17th century up to the death of poor old Minton Hammond in 1766. The first of these records is in fact the dowry agreed to prior to the marriage celebrated between Rebecca’s parents, who were called Richard Minton and Rebecca Sheppard. Theirs must have been a happy but very brief marriage, for they had four daughters born between 1692 and 1699. Sadly, the mother died three months after giving birth to her youngest daughter; her widower passed away barely six years later.
All four of Richard and Rebecca’s orphaned daughters made suitable marriages to local “gentlemen”, as they are described on the marriage register: Ann, the eldest, married Benjamin Russell of Enchmarsh, in the parish of Cardington; Rebecca, as we have already seen, married Bernard Hammond of Hatton; Mary married James Lewis of Childs Mill, in the parish of Wistanstow; and Elizabeth, the youngest, married her father’s second cousin and eventual heir Thomas Minton of Minton, who later inherited much of the family property.
I could go on about the Minton family for hours and talk about how some family pedigrees that I dug up in Shropshire Archives take the family line back to the reign of Edward II – purportedly – but alas, my Mintons will have to wait for another time. Let’s explore the Sheppard line, which still held a few more surprises for me.
Richard Minton’s wife, Rebecca Sheppard, was the daughter of one Richard Sheppard, who was born sometime in the first half of the 17th century. While he is not named in his grandfather’s will (dated 1631), his father Richard, uncle John and John’s son (also called Richard Sheppard) are all explicitly mentioned. This cousin Richard appears to have either inherited or purchased Middleton, the family property located in the parish of Bitterley. Middleton belonged at one point to my ancestor Richard Sheppard, from the main family line, but if it was entailed, then I suspect the land reverted to his cousin as his closest male relative – bear in mind “my” Richard died in 1706 leaving four daughters but no sons.
Be that as it may, this cousin Richard appears to have married twice. His first wife, the former Miss Anne Russell, was of the parish of Cardington and probably a kinswoman of the Benjamin Russell mentioned above. After Anne’s death in 1700, Richard married Mary Hall – a match which shaped his descendants’ fortunes forever.
Mary Hall belonged to a well-to-do family who owned Park Hall, in Bitterley. The property was initially owned by her brother William Hall, serjeant at law, but on his death sometime before September 1721 his estate reverted to his sister’s son William Sheppard – who thus adopted the last name Hall. This fortunate nephew, however, only enjoyed his good fortune for ten short years, prior to his death aged 25. As he was a bachelor, the Hall/Sheppard property once again trickled down through the female line to his sister Elizabeth Sheppard. Elizabeth had been married since 1722 to the splendidly named Wredenhall Pearce and by him had no less than twelve children!
The Pearces were a well-established gentry family from the nearby parish of Stanton Lacy, and the Hall/Sheppard estate eventually came to be inherited by Wrendehall and Elizabeth’s son William Pearce Hall. His marriage to Catherine Comyn in 1759 produced only one daughter, Catherine, who now stood to inherit a rather fabulous fortune and collection of properties.
Catherine’s appearance on the Georgian social scene must have been a welcome sight for someone like Charles Rouse-Boughton, an impoverished baronet who in 1794 inherited Downton Hall as well as the title – but, crucially, not the family fortune – from his dissipated elder brother, Sir Edward Rouse-Boughton. I don’t want to spoil their story, as it was covered in a Who Do You Think You Are? episode in 2008 – and if you remember who it was about, then you’ve probably guessed where this article is going!
Charles Rouse-Boughton and my 4th cousin (eight times removed) Catherine Pearce Hall were married in Westminster in 1782. Their eldest son was the ancestor of the future Rouse-Boughton baronets of Lawford Parva, Rouse Lench and Downton Hall – a double title that became extinct on the death of the last direct male descendant in 1963.
Charles and Catherine’s daughter Louise Rouse-Boughton did not inherit the family title, but her lineage is nevertheless very interesting because it connects me to a well-known TV personality and the protagonist of the aforesaid Who Do You Think You Are? episode. Louise’s son (through her first marriage) was St. Andrew Beauchamp St. John. Yes, that was his actual name! Among the latter’s children was one Laura St. John, who in 1867 married Connolly Thomas McCausland. Their son, Maurice (1872-1938) was the father of Helen Laura (1903-2000), and her daughter is the mother of none other than BBC One’s Pointless presenter Alexander Armstrong!
So, besides discovering my link to Shropshire gentry – and who knows what other treasures may be lurking up my family tree – I have also made the rather exciting discovery that I am the 11th cousin (once removed) of Alexander Armstrong. His family’s fascinating tale, which explores not just the story of the Rouse-Boughtons but also Alexander’s connection to the Dukes of Somerset and his distant genealogical link to royalty, was told in the sixth episode of the seventh series of Who Do You Think You Are?, which aired in August 2010.
Go on! What are you waiting for to re-watch it? After all, it’s MY family as much as Alexander’s!
When my 24 year-old Italian great-grandfather Giacomo boarded a ship and emigrated to the United States in 1910, he left behind a tiny family unit composed of solely by his mother, Margherita. She was listed on the passenger list as his next of kin in Giacomo’s home country. One might therefore ask the question: why did he not mention his father? Had he passed away by then, perhaps?
Vincenzo – Giacomo’s father – has always been a man of mystery. Neither we in Europe nor our cousins in America ever knew what became of him. A few years ago, Giacomo’s daughter told us that Vincenzo had abandoned his wife Margherita early on in the marriage “because she was difficult to put up with” and moved away – to Genoa, she believed.
But tracing someone’s whereabouts in Italy if you do not know where they lived, particularly at the turn of the century, is almost literally like looking for a needle in a haystack. You simple need to know in which town or city the record you are looking for is located. Nowadays, websites such as FamilySearch and Antenati are of course allowing users to make general searches using a name and surname – but alas, Vincenzo does not appear among the results. Indeed, as we did not know when or where Vincenzo died – let alone where he lived between the time of his marriage and his death – we always suspected this was going to be a hard nut to crack.
Vincenzo had been born in 1859 in the small market town of Nizza Monferrato, in the Italian province of Piedmont. He was probably his parents’ youngest child – though how many elder siblings he had remains an open question. However, since his parents (Gerolamo and Francesca) had married in 1840, it is not unreasonable to suppose they may have had a significant number of children over the ensuing 19 years. Vincenzo’s father Gerolamo would have been comparatively old by the time his youngest son was growing up and, while I may not know when he died, I do know that by the time of Vincenzo’s wedding to Margherita in 1886, Gerolamo had already passed away before having reached the age of 70. As you will see, the absence of a father figure is a recurring feature on this side of my family tree.
In March 1886, Vincenzo married Margherita. How that union came about, I do not know. 23 year-old Margherita was her parents’ eldest surviving daughter. Her father had died comparatively young two years earlier, leaving his widow with seven young mouths to feed. Consequently, Margherita may have been expected to marry quickly in order to bring in an extra helping hand to raise the children and work the land. If this was indeed the plan, then it seems to have backfired quickly.
Margherita and Vincenzo do not seem to have cohabited together for very long. I cannot be sure of how long they actually lived together, but by the time their first and only son was born the following December, Vincenzo was already absent from the family home. The responsibility of registering little Giacomo’s birth in the local registry office therefore fell on Margherita’s mother.
The question immediately arises: had Vincenzo abandoned his wife and unborn child? Or was he working elsewhere at the time when Giacomo came into this world? I doubt we will ever be sure of the answer. However, in view of subsequent events, it looks likely that Vincenzo played a very limited role in Giacomo’s upbringing.
Giacomo grew up in the Italian countryside surrounded not only by apple orchards and vineyards, but also by many of his mother’s relatives. The house, located in the small hamlet of Casalotto, is but a few miles outside the town of Nizza Monferrato, where his father had been born. Whether he ever saw Vincenzo – wherever he had gone to – or had any communication with him will always remain a mystery.
But where was Vincenzo? Where and when did he die? Were his wife and son ever made aware of his passing? Let’s look at the facts:
As already mentioned, Vincenzo married Margherita in March 1886, but by the following December he and his wife no longer appear to have been living under the same roof. When his son Giacomo emigrated to America in 1910, he made no reference to his father (although admittedly this cannot be taken as indicative that Vincenzo was alive or dead). When many years later Margherita died in 1945, she was described on the death certificate as Vincenzo’s widow.
Vincenzo and Margherita’s son Giacomo lived in the United States for the rest of his life, but thanks to ship passenger lists, we know that he travelled back to Italy several times. The first trip back home that we know of probably took place in or around 1914/1915. There are several reasons why he may have done so, but one possibility is that he may have gone back to sort out paperwork for his impending nuptials. Giacomo travelled back to America in March 1915, and married my great-grandmother Giovanna the following September. The marriage certificate, issued in New York City, does not provide any information about Giacomo’s father beyond his name and surname. So it’s back to square one.
In 1916 Giacomo and Giovanna’s only child, my grandfather Peter, was born. It is striking that they did not name the child Vincenzo (Italian families usually named the first son after the paternal grandfather), but instead chose the name him Peter. Of course, one has to bear in mind that Pietro was the name of Giovanna’s father, and that little Peter was born on the feast day of Saint Peter, but still, the fact that they did not given their only son the name Vincenzo – even as a middle name – could well be interpreted as a sign that Giacomo did not wish to perpetuate his absent father’s name within the family…
In 1920 Giacomo’s young wife, Giovanna, sadly passed away in New York aged only 24. Giacomo was not only heartbroken, but now had the responsibility of raising his four year-old child single-handedly. It was soon decided that Peter would be better off if he could be sent to Italy to be brought up by Margherita. The boy’s life in Italy was something that he apparently always remembered fondly. He may have been motherless, and to all effects, he may have almost felt fatherless as well, since Giacomo remained in the United States, but young Peter was spoilt to the extreme by his grandmother from the very beginning. A photo of him with other school friends taken in the early 1920s shows a mischievous-looking child, tall for his age – a little American boy surrounded by Italian country children.
By the mid-1920s Peter’s widowed father Giacomo made up his mind to marry again. He was still comparatively young at 39, and more importantly, he was doing quite well for himself professionally: he probably felt that he needed to recall his son from Italy and start afresh with a new wife by his side. So, in 1926, he went home once again, only this time he intended on marrying in Italy.
His marriage certificate, issued in his home town, again includes his father’s name, only this time specified that Vincenzo was deceased. Besides his widow’s death certificate, this fact was the first indication that Vincenzo had passed away during his wife’s lifetime. Finding out when and where would be harder to prove. Did he die in Genoa, as his granddaughter later suggested? Or did he perhaps emigrate, as his son would do a few years later?
As I often do in such cases, I drew a timeline of Vincenzo’s moves and analysed each fact as objectively as I could. Vincenzo definitely died between 1886, when his son was born, and 1926, when his son married his second wife. The forty-year gap would not be easy to bridge, but luckily I have the good fortune to know a few nice people in Italy who have access to invaluable records. I therefore decided to ask the civil registry of Nizza Monferrato – Vincenzo’s home town – to see if they had any indication as to when and where he may have died. My prayers were answered within a week of sending the email request: Vincenzo’s death certificate, which is registered in that very same town where he had grown up, confirms he died in November 1917 at the age of 58!
So, far from moving away very far, or even emigrating to the New World, dissatisfied Vincenzo was hiding almost in plain sight all this time, living a stone’s throw away from his estranged wife and his son, to whom he was probably little more than a stranger. Unsurprisingly, Vincenzo’s death was not registered by his widow (Giacomo, we must remember, was already living in New York at the time), but by someone called Giuseppina, who was aged 33. Who this young woman is I do not know, but given her age, and the fact that she shares the same surname as Vincenzo, I can only presume she might be his niece.
To the very end, Vincenzo, who probably had a limited memory of his own father, refused to have anything to do with his wife and son. Giacomo therefore effectively grew up fatherless, and tried to start afresh in America. Sadly, his own son, Peter, also grew up without a father figure when he was sent to be brought up by his grandmother in Italy. And let us not forget that during WW2 Peter himself would go on to leave a young Englishwoman pregnant and subsequently abandoned her before their son – my father – was born. Considering the four subsequent generations of fatherless male ancestors I am descended from, I can only state how lucky I am to have been brought up with a loving father by my side.
To most of you, the name Eleanor Whitney probably doesn’t mean a thing – and why should it? She was a late Medieval woman about whom extremely little is known. She is not even known to have done anything particularly remarkable in her lifetime. We don’t even know when she was born, or when she died.
So who was she? Why am I writing about her? And why do I want to know who her mother was?
The reason why I want to explore Eleanor Whitney’s life and family is very simple: first, she may have been one of my ancestors. And even more excitingly, she may have been the great-granddaughter of Edmund of Langley, Duke of York via his daughter Constance, Countess of Gloucester! At least, that is what a number of sources (which I’ll talk about shortly) appear to suggest, albeit without providing much in the way of hard proof to substantiate as much.
A number of sources claim that Eleanor Whitney, who would go on to marry a Thomas Vaughan, was one of the daughters of Robert Whitney by one of his two (possibly three) wives. Robert Whitney was a Medieval gentleman – not a Sir as many sources claim, but still, the lord of the manor of Whitney-on-Wye, a small village on the Herefordshire border with Wales. His date of birth is unknown, but is commonly placed at around the 1430s. He certainly died by (but not long before) 6 October 1494, according to the abstract of his will. The vast majority of sources support the theory that he married twice, although there is a remote chance he was married a third time.
Until a few years ago, it was generally accepted that Robert Whitney’s first wife (whose name we’ll omit for now) belonged to a branch of the Vaughan family, a large network of Welsh lineages all presumably connected to Sir Roger Vaughan – who incidentally many sources claim (wrongly, according to Adam Chapman) to have been killed in 1415 at the Battle of Agincourt. However, recent research by Adrian Benjamin Burke found seemingly irrefutable evidence that Robert Whitney’s first wife was actually called Constance.
The deed from which this information was taken was signed by Robert Whitney himself on 8 October 1492, thus proving not only that he was alive at the time, but more importantly that the source is contemporary (the late 15th century being a notoriously bad period for records). The document reads: “…shall remain to the said Robert Whitney and his heirs by himself and the body of Custance [Constance] formerly his first wife, daughter of James Audeley, knight, lord Audeley, lawfully begotten, for ever to hold of the chief lords of that fee for services thereof formerly owed and customary…“.
Although the document does not explicitly say as much, there are several details we can definitely infer from this short passage. The first and most obvious one is that Robert and Constance were no longer married by 1492, when the deed was written. This very probably means that Constance had died by then (or else that her marriage to Robert had been annulled, which seems unlikely in view of the times and given the existence of issue from their marriage). The second, and perhaps more important piece of information is that Constance was Robert’s first wife, not his second/last wife, as many non-contemporary sources claim, and therefore that Robert had obviously been married at least once after Constance’s death (given that she is referred to as “his first wife”).
At some point after being widowed, Robert was married to a woman from the Vaughan family. Her name is variously given as Alice, Elizabeth or, though less frequently, Elsbeth. The source of the confusion may simply be phonetic. On this matter, I again rely on Burke’s meticulous research, which reads as follows:
The Welsh poet Lewis Glyn Cothi wrote a lengthy, yet sadly undated, epithalamium in tribute to the marriage of merch Tomas ab Rosser/Meistres Alis dewiser, [Mistress Alice, daughter of Thomas son of Roger] to Robert Whitney, Esq. Having established that Constance Touchet was Robert’s first wife, his marriage to the daughter of Tomas ab Rosser [Thomas ap Roger Vaughan of Hergest] must have occurred before the execution of the deed.
Various pedigrees and non-contemporary sources confused the first and second names of Whitney’s second wife. One pedigree referred to her as the daughter of Thomas Rogers, which seems to be an amalgam of her father and grandfather’s first names. This is likely due to the Welsh patronymic naming custom. Other sources called her Elsbeth and still others, Alice. As for being called Alice, perhaps the transition of her first name went something like: Elisabeth > Elsbeth > Eliz’ > Alis > Alice. The first name of Robert Whitney’s widow was Elizabeth. This is proved by the record of the granting of the administration of the estate of Robert Whitney, Esq.
The will of Robert Whitteney esq., of the parish of Whitteney was granted to Elizabeth his relict and James his son. James appeared at Hereford on 27 September when he was granted to administer and power was reserved for Elizabeth to administer at a later date.
The question must be asked, however, whether Alice Vaughan was his second wife and Elizabeth his widow was yet a third, previously unidentified wife? The range of documents examined for this article make no mention of a distinct third wife, and the confusion surrounding her Welsh name and the irregularities of medieval English script and spelling suggest to me that Alice, whose marriage to Whitney was described by Cothi, and Elizabeth, his widow, were in fact one and the same.
In the absence of contemporary information to suggest otherwise, I believe Burke’s theory that Alice (or Elizabeth) Vaughan were the same person is very probably correct. As he says, although her date of death is not known, she was certainly alive in May 1525, when the record granting her the administration of her husband’s will was dated, some thirty years after her husband’s death. Unless she lived to be over ninety, as Robert Whitney died in the early 1490s being approximately sixty years of age, it follows that his widow Alice/Elizabeth was in all likelihood somewhat younger, possibly by upwards of a decade.
The identity of Alice/Elizabeth’s mother is contested; some sources mention her mother was Jane Trussell, while others state she was the daughter of Ellen Gethin, known in popular culture as Ellen the Terrible. On the other hand, the identity of Alice/Elizabeth’s father is well documented, for he was none other than Thomas Black Vaughan (son of the aforementioned Roger Vaughan who many wrongly say was killed in Agincourt). Thomas was probably born around the year 1400, given that the earliest contemporary document that mentions him, dated 1422, records him as the constable of the castle of Huntingdon (about two miles from his family seat at Hergest, on the Welsh border). Between 1453 and 1454 he received three lordships (Brecknock, Hay and Huntingdon itself), but in spite of these favours, Thomas Vaughan does not seem to have been regarded as a fully trustworthy supporter of the House of Lancaster, for in 1457 he and some of his kinsmen were granted a general pardon by the Coventry Parliament. This has been interpreted as an indication that the advisers of the weak Henry VI hoped to prevent Vaughan and his associates from joining the ranks of Richard, Duke of York, who had gathered much support in the Welsh Marches. The bribe must have worked, for in 1460 Thomas Vaughan was given a commission to seize the castles and manors of the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick in Elvell, Melenith, Gwerthrynion and the Herefordshire border. The following year, Vaughan was appointed receiver of the three lordships during the minority of the heir to the duchy of Buckingham. However, the Vaughans were by then eminently Yorkists at heart, and despite these grants, Thomas and his brothers eventually joined the Yorkist party by 1467. Thomas Black Vaughan was still a fervent supporter of the Yorkist cause when he was killed at the Battle of Edgecote, near Banbury, Northamptonshire in July 1469.
From a genealogical viewpoint, Black Vaughan’s death in 1469 can only mean that his children, (including his daughter Alice/Elizabeth, who was the become the latter wife of Robert Whitney prior to 1492), must have been born at the very latest in 1470. There is no way of knowing of course how close Alice/Elizabeth was in age to her future husband, but if she was indeed younger than Robert (as her date of death would seem to suggest) and had been born well before 1469, then it is not unreasonable to suggest that she may have been born sometime in the 1440s or 1450s, which would still make her a good ten or twenty years her husband’s junior.
Let’s go back to Robert Whitney and his family. Robert is known to have had a number of children, though their names vary from source to source, as does their birth order (or indeed approximate year of birth). As far as I know, there is no contemporary evidence that proves how many children he had or indeed what all their names were, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong! This blank in his family history of course leaves much room for speculation as to who his children’s mother may have been. Many sources affirm that all of Robert’s children were born to his first wife – though the same sources claim Constance was the second wife, which we now know to be untrue. Most sources also seem to agree that Robert had a daughter called Joan, who later married Roger Vaughan of Talgarth, another member of the extended Vaughan family. Those same sources claim Joan was Constance’s daughter. Many of the said sources give varying accounts as to which of Robert’s other children were born to which wife, and so – if we are to hazard a guess – we need to look at the hard facts, if not to reach a solid conclusion, then at least to make an educated guess.
Robert Whitney’s son and heir was called James, and there is general consensus among academics that he was born during Robert’s marriage to Constance. The name James does not appear to have been used by the Whitney family prior to this period, which is why it cannot be a coincidence that it was also the name of Constance’s father, James Touchet, Baron Audley (c.1398-1459). A staunch Lancastrian, Touchet had been a distinguished veteran of the Hundred Years’ War and was killed at the Battle of Blore Heath in 1459. It follows, therefore, that Whitney and his wife would have chosen his name for one of their sons.
To the best of my knowledge, no solid proof has been put forward as to the real identity of Robert Whitney’s other children, and while we may never find the answer, I think there is strong evidence to suggest that Constance also gave birth to at least a third child: my (purported) ancestor Eleanor Whitney.
My reasons for assuming this are that, like James, the name Eleanor is not found in any of the genealogies of the Whitney family to which I have had access. Nor does it seem to have been a popular name prior to the 1450s among the Vaughan family, to which as we’ll remember Robert Whitney’s widow Alice/Elizabeth belonged (although one might wonder if the name of Ellen the Terrible or indeed her daughter-in-law Elinor Wogan, wife of Walter Vaughan of Bredwardine, may have served as an inspiration…?). Perhaps more importantly, however, is the fact that Eleanor was the name of Constance Touchet’s mother. And if Robert Whitney gave the name of his father-in-law to his son, it follows that he too may have given his mother-in-law’s name to his own daughter. Theophilus Jones, in his non-contemporary opus A History of the County of Brecknock, states that Thomas Vaughan married Elinor, d[aughter of] Sir (sic) Rob[ert] Whitney by a d[aughter of] L[or]d Audley. While Jones’s work is not without its inaccuracies (the story of Roger Vaughan being slain at Agincourt is once again mentioned), it does cite “a pedigree preserved in the family” as his primary source for the family trees it features.
Robert’s first wife Constance Touchet was one of the daughters born to James Touchet, Baron Audley and his second wife Eleanor Holland (his first wife being Margaret de Ros). The couple obtained a marriage licence on 14 September 1430, during the minority of Henry VI, having been dispensed because they were related within the 3rd degree of affinity (i.e. they were related to each other spiritually, but not by blood). James Touchet’s first marriage had also been dispensed, albeit because he and Margaret were related within the prohibited degrees of kindred (i.e. they were related by blood).
No such provision seems to have been made for either of his son-in-law Robert Whitney’s marriages to Constance or Alice/Elizabeth. This can mean that the records in question have not survived, or else that he was not related by blood or affinity to either of his wives (as seems to be the case if one believes the multiple Whitney, Touchet and Vaughan genealogies online). But what of his daughter Eleanor’s marriage? Can it shed any light on who her real mother was?
Eleanor Whitney, the main character in this complicated saga, married Thomas Vaughan on an unknown date sometime during the second half of the 15th century. Thomas was the son of Walter Vaughan and Elinor Wogan, and therefore a grandson of the same Roger Vaughan who was killed at the Battle of Edgecote in 1469. In other words, he was a first cousin of Alice/Elizabeth Vaughan, Robert Whitney’s second wife.
So, in view of Eleanor Whitney’s marriage to Thomas Vaughan, we are looking at two different theories, depending on who her mother was:
If Eleanor’s mother was Constance Touchet, and Alice/Elizabeth Vaughan was her step-mother, then it follows that when she married Thomas Vaughan, she was marrying her stepmother’s first cousin (or perhaps she married Thomas Vaughan and then his cousin Alice/Elizabeth later married his widowed father-in-law Robert Whitney).
If Eleanor’s mother was Alice/Elizabeth Vaughan, then it follows that Thomas Vaughan was her first cousin once removed, a close enough relationship to warrant a marriage dispensation for reasons of kindred. No such dispensation seems to exist, though this cannot be taken as conclusive evidence that they were not indeed related to each other.
There is perhaps an additional piece of the jigsaw which may support the firstof these two theories. One of Eleanor’s sons, Richard Vaughan, seems to have been knighted at Tournai in October 1513, when he would have been about eighteen years of age at the very youngest (he was later appointed Sheriff of Herefordshire, retaining the post between 1530 and 1541). This means that Richard must have been born, at the very latest, in the late 1490s, but may have been born earlier. If he was, say, born in the 1470s or even the 1480s, his mother Eleanor would necessarily have been born approximately two decades before him at least; in other words, Eleanor must have been born in the 1450s or 1460s. Such a time span seems to be more consistent with Constance Touchet’s estimated year of birth (circa 1430s) rather than with Alice/Elizabeth Vaughan’s estimated year of birth (which, as mentioned, is unknown, but considering she died after 1525, she would have been nearing her 90th year had she been born anywhere close to 1440…).
In conclusion: while we may not have conclusive evidence to pinpoint Eleanor Whitney’s true parentage, I believe the evidence strongly suggests that her mother was in fact Constance Touchet, based on the following arguments:
Eleanor was probably named in honour of her maternal grandmother, Eleanor Holland, Lady Audley.
No evidence exists to support the fact that her marriage to Thomas Vaughan received a dispensation – which would have been necessary had she been marrying her mother’s first cousin.
At least one of Eleanor’s children was born by the late 1490’s, if not earlier, setting her estimated year of birth in about the 1450s/1460s, which would make it perfectly plausible for her mother to have been born in or around 1430, as is likely to be the case for Constance Touchet.
Even if you are not an expert on this part of history or the Vaughans, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my pet theory about Eleanor Whitney’s parentage. If you have additional information, access to contemporary sources or else think I may have overlooked an important piece of evidence, please drop me a comment or send me an email.
And for those of you wondering, my line to Thomas Vaughan and Eleanor Whitney presumably comes through their son Thomas, who married a daughter of Richard Parry of Poston. Their presumed son William Vaughan married one of kinswomen, whose first name is unknown, but she is known to have been one of the daughters of William Vaughan of Claus. Their alleged son, another Thomas, is my (proven) 12x great-grandmother Sybil Vaughan’s father.
One of the most intriguing genealogical mysteries I have encountered lately is the private life of my (probably very distant) relative Anna Amerio, and her very peculiar family arrangement – for you see, for a number of years she lived and had several children with a man… who was NOT the man she was married to! [Audience gasps] For the record, there is a family tree chart towards the end of this article which may help you understand the many relationships mentioned below.
It is difficult to state when or where Anna was even born, as her existence is deduced through records that do not directly relate to her. She may have been born sometime around 1833. Her parents’ identities are equally mysterious, for the simple reason that I have not been able to pinpoint her baptism record. Again, more on that later.
But in the absence of these vital clues, what do I know about Anna? She first crops up in December 1869, when her son Leonardo Caire passed away aged two years in the hamlet known as Regione Cortetta, within the boundaries of the parish of San Marzano Oliveto, in the Italian region of Piedmont. The record makes no explicit mention as to whether Anna and the child’s father, Emanuele Caire, were married. However, the record does seem to contain some contradictory information: it clearly states that the unfortunate child had been born in the same parish; and yet, no baptism for him exists – in San Marzano Oliveto at least. This may suggest he was in fact born elsewhere, as I’ll explain shortly.
The next record where I have been able to find Anna’s name mentioned is the 1870 birth of her next son, Bartolomeo, who is clearly recorded as the son “of the illegitimate union” between Emanuele Caire and Anna Amerio. The birth also took place in the above-mentioned hamlet of Cortetta.
In 1872 Anna gave birth to a daughter called Carolina Clementina, who was registered as illegitimate in the local registry office. After her birth, Anna would produce three more children (Giacomo in 1875, Antonia in 1877 and a second Leonardo in 1879), all of whom were registered as either illegitimate, or otherwise recorded as children of the unmarried couple Emanuele Caire and Anna Amerio.
The absence of a marriage between a couple who clearly spent so many years cohabiting (presumably!) and procreating must necessarily beg the question: why didn’t they get married at some stage? And, given the fact that this is the only case of an unmarried couple in a long-term relationship living in the area between 1808 and 1926, I assume it can only mean one thing: that at least one of them wasn’t free to marry.
Locating Anna’s death record seemed straightforward at first: she was still alive when her daughter Carolina married in 1887, but she was already deceased at the time of her other daughter Antonia’s marriage in 1894. That can only mean that Anna died between 1887 and 1894. And yet, having thoroughly gone through the death records for San Marzano Oliveto covering that time span, I can conclude that no such document survives for an Anna Amerio who was listed as Emanuele Caire’s partner or mistress. But then again, would she have been listed as someone’s lover on an official record such as her own death certificate?
There is one – only one – intriguing candidate who fits the bill nicely, albeit while generating many more questions than answers…
In July 1893 (in other words, during the timeframe we are looking at for Anna’s death) a married woman called Anna Amerio died in San Marzano Oliveto at the age of sixty. No reference to the place or hamlet where she lived is made, and the two men who registered her death both bear the surname Amerio, leading me to believe they were either neighbours or more probably relatives of hers. The surname Caire is conspicuously absent from the record – which is not altogether surprising if this woman was the same person as Emanuele Caire’s long-term mistress. Or was she?
The most important clue on the death record is that the deceased is referred to as the wife of one Nicola Filippone. The wife, mind you, and not the widow. So, unless someone made a mistake in the registry, Mr Filippone, whoever and wherever he was, was still very much alive at the time. Read on, read on.
I then looked for the marriage certificate for Anna Amerio and the mysterious Mr Filippone, which actually took place in 1852. The bride’s parents are listed as Bartolomeo and Antonia, a name which Anna would give to her first (and, as far as I know, her only) legitimate daughter in 1854. The trail then goes cold until Anna’s death nearly fifty years later.
There are several intriguing coincidences between the woman who married Nicola Filippone in 1852 and the one who set up house with Emanuele Caire about a decade later. As I’ve established, Anna (aka Mrs Filippone) was the daughter of Bartolomeo and Antonia – names which Emanuele Caire’s mistress would later give to two of her illegitimate children. Another uncanny coincidence is that Mr Filippone was from the nearby town of Nizza Monferrato, and may well have moved back there with his family after his marriage to Anna; perhaps not coincidentally, Emanuele Caire’s mistress had at least one child, heretofore unmentioned, in Nizza Monferrato in about 1867 (we know this because the said daughter, called Rosa, married in San Marzano Oliveto in 1884, but is recorded as being born in Nizza). So, apart from the coincidence of names and dates, there is definitely the spatial element to consider as a plausible link between the two families.
Let us not forget that intriguing detail of Mr Filippone being alive at the time of Anna’s death in 1893. If this is indeed correct, and assuming that their marriage had broken down sometime before the late 1860s, there was no way that Anna could have married Emanuele Caire during her husband’s lifetime, which might explain why she always remained his publicly-accepted lover. The fact that Mr Filippone survived his wife, and lived in the same village as her, leads me to believe he may have been an extremely supportive and open-minded husband. Cheers to him!
While there is still an element of assumption and guesswork here, to my mind there is little doubt as to what really happened. Here’s the story, as best as I can make it out, based on the evidence I have just explained: Maria Anna (as she was baptised) was born to Bartolomeo and Antonia Amerio in San Marzano Oliveto in 1835. In 1852, four days after her 17th birthday, she married Giovanni Nicola Filippone, and the couple had at least a daughter together, Maria Antonia (whose fate is unknown). I think it quite plausible to suppose that at some point the couple settled in Nizza Monferrato, where Nicola originally came from. Relations between husband and wife, for whatever reason, deteriorated at some stage, although it certainly seems like later they both ended up living in San Marzano Oliveto (not necessarily under the same roof, mind!). Either way, Nicola and Anna were still legally married, and the existence of at least one daughter made annulling the match practically impossible.
Enter Emanuele Caire, whom Maria Anna (aka Anna) would have known back from San Marzano Oliveto. He was about three years her junior, and may have been everything she hoped for in a man. I know for a fact that they had at least one daughter, Rosa, while they were living in Nizza Monferrato – and I’m pretty sure their eldest son Leonardo (the one who died in 1869 aged two and whose birth had allegedly taken place in San Marzano Oliveto) was in reality born in Nizza as well. The pair and their small family unit moved in the late 1860s to San Marzano Oliveto, where they each had close relatives. The fact that they openly lived together for so many years as husband and wife in all but name suggests they were accepted within their community as a somewhat unconventional couple. The birth of five more children (including Bartolomeo and Antonia – who as I said were probably so christened in honour of Anna’s own parents) cemented the relationship.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
There is of course a sad epilogue to this story. If Anna ever hoped to marry her beloved Emanuele, she was to be sorely disappointed. In 1893 she died at the age of sixty, according to her death certificate – she would have been fifty-eight in fact. It cannot be a coincidence that she was registered as the wife of Nicola Filippone: after all, legally that is precisely what she was, and for all her love towards Emanuele Caire, a legal relationship would have been considered much more relevant to a civil registrar than a somewhat scandalous, if long-standing amorous liaison to a man who in effect had never been her husband.
So, where to from here? First, I need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are no other Anna Amerios who died between 1887 and 1894 (the church archives should soon provide an answer to that question). Secondly, I need to prove the birth of the two children born to Emanuele and Anna in Nizza Monferrato in the late 1860s. It would of course be useful to find a reference to Nicola Filippone’s death after 1893, which would indeed prove why his wife never married Emanuele Caire, but as he seems to have disappeared from the picture after 1854, I can’t say I’m holding my breath.
In any case, I’ll keep you posted [see below for an added update!]
The truth will out:
Well, since writing the above, I have had two strokes of luck. First, I have managed to locate the death record for Nicola Filippone, who died in 1900 as “the widower of Anna Amerio”. Nothing too surprising there. It does, however, prove that if his late wife had been Emanuele Caire’s lover, then it goes a long way to explain why she and Emanuele never married. They simply couldn’t.
And yet while the birth certificates for Anna’s illegitimate children Leonardo and Rosa in Nizza Monferrato are still eluding me, I have been fortunate to receive a communication from the local church archive telling me that, other than the woman I have found, there is no other Anna Amerio who died between 1887 and 1894. Moreover, the baptisms of the children who were born in San Marzano Oliveto (Bartolomeo, Carolina Clementina, Giacomo, Antonia and Leonardo) all state that they were illegitimate. And (here’s the best bit!) Anna is listed as being born in San Marzano Oliveto, and that her father was indeed called Bartolomeo.
Now, tragically the baptism records do not refer to Anna’s mother, which is somewhat unfortunate as that would have hit the nail on the head to prove her parentage, and therefore her identity. But I have gone through all the baptisms for an Anna, Anna Maria or Maria Anna born before the 1860s in San Marzano Oliveto, and there is only one person who fits the bill – and she just so happens to be the very same woman who married Nicola Filippone in 1852.
And so, my dear readers, I come to the relieving conclusion that Anna Amerio did indeed marry Nicola Filippone in 1852, and that they had a daughter together. As a married woman, Anna seems to have lived in nearby Nizza Monferrato for some time, where she probably began a relationship with Emanuele Caire. The couple and their two infant children moved back to San Marzano Oliveto, where they had their remaining brood. It was there that Anna passed away in 1893, followed by her legal husband seven years later. I know not when or where Emanuele died (he certainly survived his beloved Anna) but I am confident one day I will be able to ask one of her descendants if the story of such a remarkable woman has been passed down the generations to this day. If not, let this article reveal the story of their trailblazing ancestor.
I think it’s time to take a short break from Italian genealogy, so I’ve decided to delve into the English side of my family tree instead! Looking at the various members of my extended family whom I’ve long neglected to explore, I decided to look at the life of Jane Dee (née Allen), my great-great-great-grandfather’s third cousin.
Jane Allen was baptised in the Herefordshire village of Colwall on 27 April 1805, according to the parish transcripts which are available online. Her parents were Sarah and Edward Allen – most likely to have been the same Edward Allen and Sarah Lockstone, who were married on 8 February 1802. Edward was a distant cousin of my own relations: his paternal grandfather Joseph was the younger brother of Richard Allen, my great-grandfather six times over. I am fairly confident that both branches of the family knew each other well, as they lived in the same village during the same period. It is also quite possible that in 1803 Edward Allen acted as godfather, or sponsor, at the baptism of his kinsman and namesake Edward Allen, who happened to be my great-great-great-grandfather!
While Jane’s father belonged to a fairly large family, her parents did not have many children themselves. In fact, I have only found evidence of them having two daughters: Jane herself, as well as her elder sister Kezia, who had been born in 1803, just over a year after her parents’ wedding.
Edward Allen worked as an inn keeper, and evidence from the latter half of his life suggests he owned or at least ran the Horse & Groom public house (later demolished and renamed the Horse & Jockey, which still stands to this day, albeit under a different name and purpose – in fact, it is now a Thai restaurant!).
It is highly likely that both Jane and her sister Kezia helped out with the running of the family business. It may have been in this context that they met their future husbands. Kezia was the first to wed, for in March 1832 she married James King, a well-to-do farmer who lived at Groves End and who would later be listed on the census as “employing eight men”. The couple would go on to have two children called Richard and Sarah Ann, both of whom would lead long lives – long enough to even see the dawn of the 20th century!
Following in her elder sister’s footsteps, 27-year-old Jane also decided to venture into matrimony shortly afterwards. Her choice of husband, however, was somewhat more unconventional than her sister’s, for in July 1832 she married James Dee, a farmer who was seven years her junior and, presumably, had far fewer prospects. But if anyone had any misgivings, Jane apparently soon proved them wrong. Settling into marital life, she gave birth to her first-born son before a full year had gone by. The boy was christened Richard Allen Dee, the middle name an obvious reference to Jane’s family.
But all was not well in the home of the Dees. In fact, soon thereafter, the family ran into financial trouble. The local press of the time reported that James Dee had to convey and assign his real and personal estate to trustees for the benefit of his creditors. It is quite likely that Jane’s parents came to the couple’s rescue, and in view of subsequent evidence, it is quite possible that the Dees moved into the Horse & Groom with Edward and Sarah Allen.
Jane gave birth to a second son, John, in 1834, but sadly the child died a few months later, his abode being listed as the Horse & Groom (this leads me to believe that Jane and her family lived at the pub, and probably worked there as well in order to make ends meet). James and Jane Dee’s personal and material losses were slightly compounded by the happy arrival of a daughter in July 1836, whom they christened Harriet Ann.
Alas, the couple’s happiness was to be short-lived. In September that same year, and only weeks after their daughter’s birth, James Dee died at the very young age of 24; his entry of burial refers to him as residing at the Horse & Groom. The cause or circumstances of his death remain unknown. Had he been ill for some time? Was his early death brought on by his recent financial strains? We will probably never know. What is certain is that the loss of her husband, and at such an early age, must have been a devastating blow to Jane. Fortunately for her and her children, her parents were by her side at the time, and it seems likely they would have provided for her and her infant children in this time of need.
Two years later Jane’s mother Sarah passed away; Edward Allen himself lived for another two years, dying in February 1841 of “old age”. Jane now became the head of a small family. Her children Richard and Harriet Ann were still under ten years of age, so she probably resorted to odd jobs and the occasional help from her sister Kezia to survive. Although still in her mid-thirties, Jane never remarried. Instead, it seems that she devoted herself to her children’s upbringing. By 1851 all three were living in Slad Acre, in Colwall (incidentally, one of their neighbours, Jonathan Lucy, was another distant relative of mine who is notorious in my family history for having hosted a group of American Mormon preachers in Colwall in the mid-1840s). By 1861 Jane, Richard and Harriet Ann were living at the Purlieu, in Upper Colwall, and while her son worked as a plasterer and her daughter as a dressmaker, Jane herself does not seem to have had a particular occupation.
Within three years both Richard and Harriet had found partners of their own. In 1863 Richard married Harriet Ann Pugh, from nearby Castlemorton (coincidentally, one of her sisters, Susannah Pugh, would later marry my great-great-grandfather’s brother William Henry Allen). They would go on to have four children called Annie Matilda, James Allen, Ada Jane and William Hooper Dee, who were all born either in Colwall or in nearby locations. On the other hand, Jane’s daughter Harriet Ann married Henry William Pantall, of Malvern, in 1864; the marriage remained childless.
Although her children did not live far, Jane spent the remaining years of her life living alone at the Purlieu. Without an apparent occupation, at least according to the census, it is difficult to know whether she did have to earn a living, or whether she relied on her relatives for support. Her apparent loneliness makes me wonder whether she was some sort of recluse, or if she was difficult to live with… or whether she simply preferred to live by herself!
Unfortunately, tragedy knocked at Jane’s door once again in early October 1876, when her eldest son Richard died aged 43 of a renal ailment known as Bright’s disease. Even if they did not live together, Jane must have felt her loss as acutely as any mother would, so much so that she began to show signs of mental instability. Her son had not been buried long when it was decided that Jane should be removed from her home.
Unfortunately, mental health issues were poorly understood at the time, and little would have been done to actually improve her state. She was soon taken to the workhouse, where her mental state continued to rapidly deteriorate: at first, her fits were brief, and she could not remember any of it afterwards. Later she developed an incoherent speech, was often found undressed and wandering about, shouting without apparent cause and disturbing other “inmates”.Within a few days, on 16 November 1876, 72-year-old Jane (“a spare old woman”) was admitted to Burghill Lunatic Asylum. Her papers state she was interned following an attack which had been brought on by distress due to the loss of her son.
As days went by, her state became much worse, her screaming more common and her temper more violent, even trying to attack others by throwing herself against them, falling on the floor and injuring herself in the process. Such attacks caused several bruises on her body which, combined with the fact that she had stopped eating her food, contributed to weakened her slight body. To calm her nerves, Jane was given morphine in regular intervals, but this only had a temporary soothing effect: for most of the time she was “excited” and had little appetite.
By early January 1877 Jane’s physical and mental state had deteriorated beyond hope. By the 11th a medical report stated she had been suffering from diarrhoea for a full fortnight, which combined with the ongoing “excitement” left her very feeble. Her screaming fits and general exhaustion continued as before, all of which weakened her to the point where she was literally wasting away. On the morning of 15th January, Jane Dee died, never having recovered her senses.
Jane’s postmortem revealed her brain was “much atrophied” with “about 4oz of subarachnoid fluid draining away”. Some of her organs also showed signs compatible with emaciation, which would have been brought on by her slight constitution and progressive weakening over the last two months of her life.
Harriet, Jane’s only surviving child, passed away in Malvern in 1917 aged 81; she was survived by her husband and by her late brother’s four children, who by then had emigrated to Manitoba, in Canada. I have yet to find out whether Jane was buried near Burghill, or if she was interred in her native Colwall close to her husband and her two beloved sons. Her sister Kezia died in 1881, being survived by her two children.
Genealogists are naturally inquisitive. Let’s be honest: we are very nosy. We like detail, we love personal stories, we adore family gossip… but above all, we need facts.
As family historians, you have probably asked your parents and even your grandparents how they met (and if you haven’t: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?). Did they meet at a dance, or through shared friends in common… Are you young enough for your parents to have met online, even?
Whatever the circumstances, knowing how your immediate ancestors met can usually only be answered by asking the main story players themselves, or else someone who knew them well (i.e. your aunt, a close family friend or a cousin). More often than not, such unique (and fleeting) stories leave very little paper trace behind them, if any at all – which begs the question: how can you prove how your ancestors met?
While “chance encounters” were probably even more common before than they are today, there are some ways that can help us figure out how our forefathers met our foremothers (get it?). And proving it can sometimes be substantiated by documentary proof. If not, in the worst case scenario, you can always narrow down the possibilities and make a very educated guess.
If two of your ancestors lived in a small community, be it a small village, or a specific religious group within a larger social group, chances are they would have met either pretty young or else by going about what we might call “daily life”: attending church, going to the market, at a local assembly room, at school… But have you considered the possibility that your ancestors were next-door neighbours? Census returns, tithe maps and other records relating to property can sometimes offer useful clues in this sense. For instance, I have located an entry from the 1841 census which reflects two branches of my English family tree, the Allens and the Davis, and would you believe it that in 1876 their respective grandchildren ended up getting married? Coincidence? Actually, it’s far from a coincidence – it just looks like it in hindsight. To them, it would have been the most natural, casual, ordinary way for two single individuals to meet and decide to tie the knot.
But there are other types of relationships, the sort that you have to dig deeper in order to get a fuller picture. Last spring, at the height of the COVID pandemic, I was stuck at home and decided to delve into my Spanish ancestry. To my delight, I discovered that the man who acted as godfather at my female ancestor’s baptism in 1758 was actually the uncle of her future husband. In other words, my ancestor married her godfather’s nephew – they were therefore “spiritually” related, albeit not by blood. Church records were of course necessary to prove the relationship.
Cousin marriage is another obvious way by which your ancestors may have got together. Marriage between individuals who knew they were related to each other (be it as first, second or third cousins) was massively common until only a few generations ago. While the idea of “incest” (a term I would definitely hesitate to use in this context) makes us uncomfortable, we should accept the fact that such unions were far from being a rarity in the not-so-distant past.
And while on the topic of marriage between family members, have you ever come across an instance of an uncle marrying his niece? Apparently, property and money were often at the root of these unions between close relatives or close acquaintances (after all, if you marry your brother’s wife’s sister, you are not technically marrying a relative). You should therefore consider the possibility of arranged marriages, which again would have been much more common in Western society a few generations ago. Check marriage records and marital dispensations (especially if your ancestors were Catholic) to see if there was a degree of consanguinity and/or affinity between both spouses, and don’t forget to consult wills to see if anybody stood to gain by marrying a rich relative!
Sometimes, “accidents” may have led to two individuals coming together. Consider another of my female Spanish ancestors who was widowed twice; coincidentally – or not – her son from her first marriage would go on to marry her first husband’s niece – again, not a blood relative per se, but there was a pre-existing family connection that must have been instrumental, one way or another, in bringing the young couple together.
But “chance encounters” probably were as common a way of meeting your future partner in the past as they are today. My great-grandfather Jack emigrated from Italy in 1910 and settled in Manhattan, in an area intensely populated by Italian immigrants. The US Federal census shows us that one of the other inhabitants in the same building block where my great-grandfather ended up was a man called Giacomo Amerio; two years later, Giacomo’s sister arrived from Italy, he introduced her to his flatmate Jack and the rest, as they say, is history!
We cannot always hope to find documentary proof for such seemingly inconsequential moments in history, but considering the pivotal role that these events have played in our own family history, I think it’s time we revisit our family tree and try to figure out how exactly our ancestors met and how we, eventually, came to be!
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Because yesterday was, genealogically speaking, a good day – I managed to add a new line of relatives to the Italian side of my family tree thanks to the combined help of AncestryDNA and available records online – I’ve decided to share my experience with you all in the shape of a new blog post!
I may not share much DNA with this relative, but let’s see if I can find out how we’re related anyway! Source: Ancestry
I started off, as I often do, by randomly looking at my own – in this case, my father’s – DNA matches to see if there were any new names on our AncestryDNA matches list. I selected one whose last name suggested a possible connection on my Italian side (that’s my American-born paternal grandfather, whose story you will remember from my dedicated webpage). This person’s tree is basic to say the least – it only contains eleven individuals, including my DNA match, his parents, his four grandparents and a very intriguing great-grandfather called ?? Bussi.
My DNA match’s rudimentary family tree – all names which are not relevant to this article have been redacted by the author. Source: Ancestry
Now, this may not have appeared particularly encouraging at first, given that the information available was not very detailed – but there were two clues that I figured could well lead me to a genealogical goldmine: the surname Bussi, which was my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Clara’s maiden name, and the fact that this individual’s grandmother’s date of birth was featured on his rather rudimentary family tree. Unfortunately my earlier attempts to find out where this match’s grandmother had been born (yes, I have contacted him before) proved futile. Still, I decided to send him another brief message, saying I might be able to connect out respective lines, but to be honest, I’m not holding my breath for an answer any time soon. Anyway, moving on.
The lady recorded as this match’s grandmother was Pauline Bussi, and had a date of birth in 1893. Was she born in the United States, or was she more likely to be an Italian emigrant who went to the new world at the turn of the century, as so many other millions did, including my own great-grandparents?
From my match’s family tree I knew Pauline Bussi’s married name was Roseo, so on I went in search of a marriage certificate. And I found nothing. Niente. OK, let’s try a different angle, let’s have a look at emigration and naturalisation records…
A family of migrants
Aha! What have we here? A naturalisation record for the State of New York from 1927 filed by Giovanni Roseo, a labourer born on 3 April 1889 in Alexandria (sic, probably meaning either the city or the province of Alessandria), Italy. His wife is listed as Magdalina and they appear to have three children: Floreno (Florence?) and Giuseppe, who were born in Italy in 1914 and 1920 respectively, and Carolina, born in Brooklyn in 1924. It definitely looks like Giovanni and his wife Pauline (aka Magdalina?) had been married in Italy, and then emigrated with their young family. Usefully, Giovanni’s wife’s date of birth is also given: 23 March 1893.
But what I’m really interested to learn is about their origins, and if I can link them – presumably through Pauline – to my family tree. As the Roseo family went to America in the 1920s, the earliest census I can expect them to be on is the 1930 census. It doesn’t take me long to find them listed together (with an additional child, Frank), all living under the same roof.
The 1930 census showing the Roseo family living in Brooklyn. Source: Ancestry
Passenger lists are usually a good way of knowing where somebody came from, especially when tracing migrant ancestors whose place of birth on the census was narrowed down to the country only. By this point I was somewhat unsettled by the fact that Pauline was also known as Magdalina. Were they one and the same person, or could they be two different individuals? Was I even looking at the right couple?
My fears were dissipated when I managed to locate a passenger list from 1922 for Maddalena Paolina Bussi. Strangely there is no sign of her children, but she appears to have been travelling with two other women from her home town: San Marzano Oliveto – my great-grandmother’s village!!! The file also reveals that she was going to stay with her husband Giovanni Roseo (wrongly recorded as Bosco) and, more importantly, it tells me her next-of-kin back in Italy is her father Francesco Bussi, who resides in Calamandrana, a small village not far from San Marzano Oliveto.
Maddalena Paolina Bussi (line 13) on a 1922 passenger list. Source: Ancestry
My next step is to try and find a marriage record that will confirm once and for all who Maddalena Paolina really was. Unfortunately, records for Calamandrana are not available on FamilySearch, Ancestry or even Antenati, so – assuming she married in the village where her father lived – it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to find her marriage to Giovanni. But the passenger list does mention San Marzano Oliveto, a name I’m all too familiar with because it is the focus of what will soon become my first one-place study. I type in the name of the bride and groom, I select San Marzano Oliveto as the place of marriage… and hey presto, I instantly get a hit: the 1913 marriage of Giovanni Antonio Roseo and Maddalena Clementina (huh? not Paolina?) Bussi. I click on the image and before my eyes in the original record, signed over 100 years ago by my distant relative and her fiancé.
The 1913 marriage of Giovanni Antonio Roseo and Maddalena Clementina Bussi. Source: Antenati.
The marriage record confirms Giovanni’s parents were Giuseppe Roseo and Adriana Caligaris, while Maddalena Clementina’s parents were Francesco Bussi and the late Carolina Vaccaneo. While the groom was born in San Marzano Oliveto on 3 April 1889 (which is same date as on the naturalisation record in New York!), the document states that the bride was born in Calamandrana on 29 May 1893; OK, so there is here a slight discrepancy with the naturalisation record, which you will recall stated she been born on 23 March 1893. At any rate, I’ve noticed on several occasions that March/Marzo and May/Maggio often get muddled up in records, so I’m not too bothered about that for now.
I then decided to hover to FamilySearch, which contains a very handy collection of civil registry scans for births, marriages and deaths from 1866 to 1910. Would I be able to locate the marriage for Maddalena Clementina’s parents before 1893? Luckily there’s an index, so if I managed to locate a marriage between a Francesco Bussi and Carolina Vaccaneo, I would be able to prove once and for all if these are really cousins of mine on my Bussi line. After a bit of searching, I finally found the 1882 marriage between Carolina Vaccaneo, daughter of Carlo Vaccaneo and Paola Amerio, and Francesco Bussi, son of Antonio Bussi and his second wife Maddalena Caligaris. Hang on, haven’t we just seen that surname a couple of moments ago? Of course, Maddalena Caligaris is the paternal aunt of Adriana Caligaris. In other words, Maddalena’s granddaughter and namesake married her second cousin, Adriana’s son Giovanni Roseo. Still with me? Good!
The 1882 marriage between Maddalena Clementina (aka Pauline)’s parents Francesco Bussi and Carolina Vaccaneo. Source: FamilySearch.
Through my prior research, I already knew that Antonio Bussi was the younger brother of my aforementioned great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Clara. In fact he has many living descendants in the UK today through his daughter from his first marriage. But I digress. The point is that I’ve finally managed to find my link to the Roseo/Bussi family and claim a new line of relatives on the other side of the pond.
But what of the difference in names? Pauline was known at different times as Maddalena as well as Clementina, right? I actually think there’s a simpler, and perhaps more logical explanation for this: her marriage record – which she signed with her full name, see below – lists her as Maddalena Clementina Bussi. I can only assume that this was her official name. However, her maternal grandmother, and we’ve seen, was called Paola – it is quite possible that as a young girl, perhaps when she was christened or had her confirmation, she was given a third name in honour of her grandmother, and the name stuck within the family. Hence why she would have been known as Pauline, and listed as such on some – but not all – official records.
Maddalena Clementina’s signature on her own marriage certificate. Source: Antenati.
Giovanni Roseo’s signature on his naturalisation record. Source: Ancestry.
All that remains now is to tell my distant cousins in America about their ancestry – but I guess I’ll have to wait until they reply to my latest message, won’t I?
Last night, as I was tucking in for what I hoped would be a quiet evening at home delving into my family tree (I know none of you ever does that, right? 😉 ) I saw an e-mail notification popping up at the bottom of my screen. I instantly recognised the sender: it was a second cousin of my mother’s (whom I’ve never personally met), who lives in another country and with whom I used to be in touch years ago because of our shared interest in family history. The tone of the e-mail was friendly and familiar… and I could also tell the reason why he was contacting me, even before I opened the message. He wanted me to send him a full report of the family tree, as he has (allegedly) lost all of his family tree data.
On the face of it, many of you will think: “Well, just do it: give the poor guy the information! He’s your cousin after all, and he’s interested in family history, so why not!” Ah, but here is where you need to know the full story.
When this cousin and I were in touch years ago (I had only just started delving into my family tree, but by chance happened to have access to much more information than he did) I would put all the information into single .doc files (yes, by hand!) in Ahnentafel format and every now and then share them with those few relatives of mine who I knew took a keen interest in family history. This was at a time when family tree software programmes were either being developed or else were not as accessible as they are today. It was then that my cousin introduced me to this new website (I won’t say which) where I could be given access and basically share all the data that I collected, along with a handful of other relatives of his who were not at all connected with my side of the family tree. At first I was thrilled. This could only be a win-win situation, right?
But then, reality struck me: after a few months of willy-nilly uploading names, dates and photos of my relatives on this supposedly private platform, I realised, much to my horror, that someone with access to that tree was posting the information I had just shared on a second online family tree platform which was (and still is) 100% freely accessible. It then dawned upon me that even the original website where I had been uploading data was not as private as I thought, even without access to that particular family tree. By doing a simple Google search for my ancestors’ names using the inverted commas method, I was actually able to find a fair amount of vital information about them, without even having to have an account on that platform. Seeing this as a breach of confidentiality and privacy, I decided to remove the data that I had uploaded onto the tree and left the group for good.
Many among you (and I realise this is going to be an unpopular opinion) think, indeed often tell me, that the purpose of genealogy is to share our family history. I strongly disagree. The purpose of genealogy is whatever purpose we want to give it. Some of us want to seek the origins of a particular surname or lineage; others want to find as many collateral branches as they can; others want to find their link to Charlemagne. There is no written rule as to what you should do with your genealogical research. I “do” genealogy because it gives me pleasure, in the same way that an artist paints because it gives the artist pleasure, not necessarily because he or she feels a need to sell paintings or hold an exhibit. Genealogy is my biggest passion and it satisfies me to unearth ancestors’ stories that have remained locked for decades, if not centuries. I spend hours, and significant quantities of money, carrying out my research. Publishing all my findings online, even by sharing it with my mother’s second cousin, just sells my research cheap.
There are many people out there (starting with the major companies who obviously want us to share our genealogy data online) who want us to believe that the purpose of genealogy is to share our family history. To each his/her own, I suppose. I particularly don’t think that is necessarily true, and moreover, I strongly believe that each person should be free to choose what to do with the genealogical data they collect, as long as they don’t infringe on anyone’s privacy, of course. I for one always tell my relatives that the personal data they give me (about themselves, their parents, grandparents, children or grandchildren) will not be published online or be passed on to a third party. How would I face them if they found out that the old family photos that they have so kindly given me a copy of have ended up on some random (as far as they’re concerned) family tree online?
It is so obvious that we live in an age of information. Actually, I think we live in an age of excess. It’s not about quality anymore, it’s about quantity. Privacy remains one of the most delicate and, in my opinion, most violated subjects in the industry, no matter what the CEOs say whenever there is a serious privacy breach in their company’s database. I and thousands of other genealogists out there are the perfect bait for large multi-million companies to take our data and use it to whichever noble or ignoble means they please, whether it’s catching a murderer through DNA or to sell our biological information to pharmaceutical companies.
The bottom line is not that you shouldn’t share your family history data, but rather that you should feel free to choose whatever you want to do with it. If you only want to keep your family tree information on your laptop software, and not upload it online, fine! If you want to keep your family history on paper format, that’s fine too! Genealogical research should first and foremost be a fun experience, and no one should dictate what you should do with your own research.
PS: I’ve since written back to my mother’s second cousin informing him of my negative experience years ago, and while I will not share a full family tree report for the reasons explained above, I will be happy to fill in any specific gaps he may have regarding our shared family history.
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Have you ever done the #RussianDollChallenge? Source: Medium.com.
Some of you may have heard of the #RussianDollChallenge, a hashtag I created on Twitter in September 2018 to discuss direct female ancestral genealogies. And why, you may ask, did this become a popular (dare one say, trending!) topic and, more importantly, why did I create the hashtag to begin with?
You have all owned or at least heard of Russian dolls, those charming, empty, heavily-decorated wooden puppets that, decreasing in size, are stacked one inside the other. When displayed, they form a neatly-ordered row, each representing a “generation”. Because the bigger doll is generally considered the “mother” of its immediately smaller “daughter”, the analogy with the world of genealogy is obvious. If we, as the smallest piece of all – i.e. the smallest daughter (or son, as the case may be) – begin to trace our lineage through an unbroken chain to our mother, and her mother, and her grandmother, and her great-grandmother, and so on, we will at some stage reach a point where we are simply unable to carry on further, be it because no records are available, or because the identity of the most remote female ancestor cannot be established.
Don’t believe me? Have a go! Although I have successfully managed to locate the immense majority of my ancestors in the last – I’m estimating here – seven or eight generations, when it comes to my matrilineal ancestry, I find myself struggling. My maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother was born in Spain in 1868; her mother was born in 1845, and her grandmother in 1816; her mother before her was born in 1773, but her mother (that’s my six-times great-grandmother, in case you weren’t counting) is a mystery. Because I have not been able to find her baptism, I can just assume that Gabriela Gómez was born sometime during the mid 1700s, probably around the same area where she would later marry twice and give birth to four daughters.
Considering I’ve been able to track my ancestry up most lineages until well beyond the year 1750, it is very frustrating to have this matrilineal brick wall hovering over me – and believe me, I have tried to find Gabriela’s origins time and time again, to no avail. My father’s side is equally frustrating, if for a moment we ignore the fact that I am connected to my paternal grandmother via my father, and not my mother. My father’s five-times great-grandmother was a Mary Lewis, who I assume was born, possibly in Herefordshire, sometime around the mid-1750s.
You’d be surprised how few generations Queen Elizabeth II can trace her line back on her direct maternal side… Source: TudorTimes.
You’d be surprised how easy it is to become stuck if you try the #RussianDollChallenge. Take Queen Elizabeth II, for instance. Her father’s line is impeccably royal, and there is even some blue blood floating about on her maternal grandfather’s side, but her maternal grandmother’s family is surprisingly un-royal (and therefore makes genealogical research harder). The Queen’s maternal grandmother, the Countess of Strathmore, was born Nina Cecilia Cavedish-Bentinck in Belgravia in 1862; her mother was Caroline Burnaby (1832 Leicester -1818 Dawlish), who was in turn the daughter of Anne Caroline Salisbury (1805 Dorchester – 1881 London). Her mother was Frances Webb (1775 Stanway, Gloucestershire – 1862 Salisbury), but her mother, Marry Garritt, is a mystery. When and where she was baptised has not yet been fully established – I have done my best to trace it too, and concluded there are at least two potential candidates who could be the Queen’s direct ancestor. In short, this means that Queen Elizabeth II cannot trace her matrilineal line with certainty beyond her four-times great-grandmother – and that is historically quite recent, especially for a royal. Fortunately the number of matrilineal generations increases for Mia Grace Tindall and Lena Elizabeth Tindall, Princess Anne’s granddaughters via her daughter Zara, who happen to be Queen Elizabeth’s only living female-line descendants other than her three sons (the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex), as well as Princess Anne’s son Peter Phillips.
Anne Caroline Burnaby (née Salisbury) is Queen Elizabeth’s great-grandmother – though who her great-grandparents were remains a mystery. Source: Wikipedia.
But why should one try to do the #RussianDollChallenge? Well, as any genealogist knows, women tend to be underrepresented on most official records – from marriage certificates (which don’t feature the mother’s name in England and Wales) to baptisms and wills, where the wife’s maiden name is rarely mentioned. With such an obliteration of their original identity, is it any wonder that tracing a woman back in history is much harder than it is tracing a man?
To conclude, by doing the #RussianDollChallenge we are not only figuring out our own origins and remembering our female ancestors, but we are also highlighting the importance of our female-line heritage and our matrilineal history.
March 8th is International Women’s Day, and I invite you all to use this article as a source of inspiration to tweet and post about your female-line ancestors in the days to come. Let me know in the comments below, or via my Twitter feed, of how many generations back you’ve been able to go on your matrilineal side. Remember to use the hashtag #RussianDollChallenge and to hit the “like” button if you’ve enjoyed this article!
You may be the last doll in a long chain of Russian dolls… But how far back can you go? Source: Medium.com (sofia.boulamrach)